20th July

Today our room here at the Wellness Hotel smells of Roberto Cavalli fragrance. Yesterday we had ‘Xmas in July’ courtesy of Anthony’s work colleagues. Fragrance, lipstick, Lego kits and board games were sent wrapped in festive paper. I put on coral lipstick and tear around the suite madly cleaning surfaces. I have now been wearing the same tracksuit for days.

Tom and I schedule games of A Little Wordy and FIFA tuition to eat into the time. Jack used to play Cupheadbut it gets him too worked up. We watch the sun cross the sky. 3pm is the WORST time. I punch the air when we make it through to 6pm.

When we get swabs taken, I feel slightly in awe of the bravery of the nurse who comes right into our room to do so. We are biohazards, aren’t we? The nurses here are overworked as the Covid health crisis worsens and lockdown rules tighten.

 It is extremely difficult (impossible) to get through to our case worker, as NSW Health are working full tilt. Despite Anthony’s herculean efforts, we need to wait and wait some more for someone to call us. Maybe they’ll see sense and reduce our sentence since we are all ok? Sometimes I think it is better to accept the worst-case scenario and get on with it.

I spend a lot of time looking at the view of the freeway (north towards mum and dad!) and at the Sydney Cricket Ground and the Supa Centa Moore Park where I used to park up on the rooftop then take the kids down to Toys R Us.

I’ve been puzzling over the things that have lost all appeal. Social media, news, fashion, magazines, strangely, podcasts, I think I associate them with relaxation and I’m not relaxed AT ALL, I’m in fight or flight mode… And no to coffee or alcohol. Things that work for me are laundry, showers, books, art and crafts, board games and films picked via our family committee; Forest GumpSaving Private RyanShazam among others.

The afternoons are the worst. I can’t help checking the time every other minute and checking the position of the sun is in the sky. Time claws its way, shuddering, shuffling, creaking toward evening. 

Jack and I played Yu Gi Oh and A Little Wordy and watched South Park (we have overdone Friends, and Rachel makes me a bit nauseous, also, were Phoebe’s songs ever actually funny?) 

Two care packages today. My best friend sent me a Sol Cleanse and it is the best and most nurturing thing I’ve ever digested, with love in every jar of juice. 

10 days to go.

The two things that concern me most now are Tom’s fit to fly test, though he’ll have recovered well and truly, Covid can still be detected up to 90 days after infection. My recurring nightmare involves he and I being sent back here to the Wellness Institute, forbidden to pass go. That combined with mass international flight cancellations and needing to get back to Edie. Of course, the knowledge that I am very possibly not going to be able to visit my parents without breaking the law has incinerated a corner of my soul.

A family friend aware of our predicament has contacted me via my old Australian phone, the text in green reads 

heard your terrible news a care package and a healing bouquet of Daphne are on their way and let me know if there’s anything else you need

21 July

Quiet mood. Today we made clay heads with the contents of the care package which also thoughtfully contains art supplies and de-stress oil. The scent of Daphne fills the kitchenette.  Olympics are on but I can’t handle watching them. Why can I watch South Park and not the Olympics? Maybe because the Olympics are proof that life is going on outside our cell where time has stood still.

The Covid-Dog scientist-nurses came to collect my sweat. They were wearing full PPE and gingerly handed over two little gauze pads and asked me to rub them in my armpits for a few minutes than bring them back and place them in a sealed container. 

So, no beagles.

Tomorrow we will be down to 8 days, we keep being swabbed and returning negative tests. (Waiting for test results is a form of mental torture). Tom has been allowed to leave as he has recovered and is now staying with our oldest friends which brings comfort knowing two of our children are free.

23rd July

Strange memories have been dislodged from shelves in the far corners of my mind. They fall down like the dust. I see myself grocery shopping in a local Bondi Junction supermarket, I see further back into my childhood, tasting the dough of my mother coconut biscuits before she put them in the oven, and other scattered memories from long ago. Why do these memories surface now? I feel as though the first 14 days of our ordeal are a blur, the shock, I suppose and all the crying (me). For the second 14 plus days my eyes have been dry and my throat is full of the dust we cannot vacuum. It has given Anthony an eye infection. I’d give anything for a vacuum cleaner. Didn’t sleep at all last night, really trying to calm myself with the breathing. Listening to the lift rattle all night. The little girl isn’t above us anymore. Lucky her, she’s out.

I keep thinking about our garden at home in London. 

And how I never want to travel again.

24th July

More memories dislodged from the shelves. A long kitchen bench in a skinny house in Church Point. Why this? Peculiar forgotten random places and spaces falling down like dust.

We continue to do our prison workouts each morning and sometimes do a 4km run up and down the short corridor, this kills your ankles and knees, all the sharp turning round the coffee table. Also, my elbows are red raw from carpet burns while doing planks and push ups. We watch Con Air. (Con Air! Nicholas Cage’s hair! His idyllic prison set up! The racial stereotypes!) 

25th July

Tom’s Birthday. His gift is that he’s out of this place. Tough we are not able to share it with him. Sharp sunlight shows the thick dust. The day began early. Before the first bird sought to compete with the trucks roaring on the freeway. I read for a few hours as the sun rose, thank you care package from family friend, brimming with works by Deborah Levy. I inhale books. Somehow last night, Saturday night had an actual Saturday flavour. Sunday afternoon is an eternal tick tock backwards. Time grinds. Soon a movie and then bed. If only I could sleep I wouldn’t have the endless dark hours to contend with as well, entertaining all my thoughts, worries, demons, regrets and anxieties.

26th July

Washed everything. It smells like air and sunlight. The Daphne still emits its healing scent and it, in combination with Pachinko, soothe my jangled nerves. Monday. Sunny. I dreamt of these pillows (my dear friend sent four of them to replace the rocks) and of a burnt tarry place at the end of the world. The dust rains from the laundry cupboard. Jacks eyes and throat are affected by it. I fantasize wildly about a dust buster. I thank the stars for giving me the strength to adapt to this, like a symbiote. (Jack and I watched Venom yesterday somehow the infections played tunes on my pandemic antennae. Also, Tom Hardy is with us here in prison again). 

I can hear the native birds now, I hear the lorikeets, the magpies, the currawongs, they compete with the throb and hum and whistle and thrum and click and ba-bum of the freeway. What must they make of the dirty great black road carved in their earth?

27th July

Yesssssssssir! 6pm. 

We made it through another day. Sun all day and scalloped clouds. Clean and airy and bright and dusty. Today was long. It was very very very very long and empty so I filled it with washing and Pachinko. Another care package, a call from Edie now in Greece where it is very windy and hot. Jack and I play makeshift basketball with the cardboard box, but we now have a small yellow ball with a smiley face (thank you Xmas in July) instead of having to throw empty bottles. I did a mini circuit and ate what Jack calls poop soup. I drank the Joy Juice. There’s love in the contents of the care packages, and you can taste it in the fruit, in the ready lasagnes that are perfect for our microwave set up.  We taste it in the Twisties and the Honey Soy Chicken Chips. Anthony works all day long in our small bedroom, his Zoom meetings powered by the world’s biggest dongle. London is flooding. Sardinia is on fire. The Olympics may be visited by a typhoon. All very Independence Day if you ask me or even if you don’t ask me. And all this also proves I am able to digest tiny chunks of news without losing my mind. My mum tells me my old neighbour is similarly incarcerated in NZ in a room smaller than this where she has to dodge her suitcases to do a workout. There’s a knock at the door and I can hear Anthony wearily tolerating another Wellness Check, but I need to ask this nurse about our release, to check with her that our release day is as promised though they continue to swab us like maniacs, they push the swizzle stick so far up it makes your eyes water.

28th July

Nearly (nearly!) 5.30 pm. You can see how I count the hours and minutes and seconds. A wind and grey skies end the day though it started unseasonably warm 23 degrees and searing sunlight. Can we even say unseasonably any more with the effects of climate change? Perhaps in the future we’ll pine for a time where seasons had a solidity and permanence underpinning our day to day life. I washed my prison uniform (tracksuit) and Anthony’s work shirt and they dried quickly. I jogged up and down the corridor (past the washing machine and the terrifying black phone) for 30 minutes and then did planks. Our final swab was at precisely 4pm I don’t know why they bother with this because it is a waste of resources. I couldn’t help getting rising anxiety as well, any test triggers this response because there’s a one in a billion chance there’ll be a positive even though we are double jabbed, double antibody, continually negative and obviously, haven’t been anywhere or seen anyone apart from nurses in full PPE. There could be other variants swirling through the corridors I suppose, when you open the door to get your water and juice, though we always wear masks and clean our hands after every opening. The Whatifs have started hammering and yammering back at me as we inch ever closer to our freedom. Finished Pachinko today and Jack and I ration out episodes of the Michael Jordan documentary series on Netflix.  I worry about him now because at every wellness check since they accidentally told us we were getting out when we weren’t his heart rate has been too high, and he needs to sit in the rolling office chair to get his pulse taken and to deep breathe while it goes down. My own heart rate is thankfully more normal and my blood pressure is excellent, so they tell me. Silver linings? Anyone?

Our dongle is the hardest working dongle in NSW. It takes a lot of charging before it can service the needs of business next day. I’m now reading a Norwegian book called the Unseen where not a lot happens to an isolated family not sure if it is the best diversion. The time is ticking ever so slowly towards 6 pm. Need to find the inner strength. 

Everyone, eventually gets out.

29th July.

We will be released tomorrow if our final swabs allow. It has been nearly 24 hours since that final swab. When the clock ticks its way to 4pm we can start counting down the hours till our release. Difficult to be mindful today, my mind is jumping all over the place. All I want to do is throw things away with the rubbish, to peel off my own skin and put it in the trash too. I’ve already got rid of the terrible yellow shorts I do my circuit training in, they fall down as I run, I think all the push ups and planks are making me lose weight. I’ve thrown away t-shirts and socks and some of the games we’ve played. Throwing things away is thrilling. Our release date (swabs willing) means we will just about make our flight back if they process our paperwork in time – they need a whole day for admin in order to discharge us (!)

 I’ve read the current Covid laws over and over and can see that travel to Newcastle, where my parents are waiting for me, is not permitted. You can’t go from a hot zone to a cold one, there are so far no cases in Newcastle. I keep thinking if I got in a car at 4am and sped up the freeway to them before turning around and coming back to the airport…but Whatif I got stopped by police and anyway the better part of me acknowledges that this would be breaking the law and my parents would not want that. All another tragic lump I can’t digest.

 We did our last (?) Wellness Check this morning and the nurse said I was a bit hypothermic! I said I’M FINE I FEEL TERRIFIC. If they could measure impatience and the drain on resilience the bingo bongo boiling bowling balls of boredom/anxiety/lack of mindfulness/forgotten what life is/ forgotten-what-it’s-like-to-be-free-ness they’d be staggered. Soon this will be a fading memory. But I will be changed. Till then, time has its tentacles in everything.

30th July release day

My phone shows 12.01. The sun has half-traversed the flat pale blue sky. It is right above us and we’ve 4 hours left. I’ve been up since 5am. The bags are packed, the boxes are packed we’ve made new care packages for friends now in lockdown from our craft supplies.  The champagne we never drank. I never ever felt like drinking champagne in the Wellness Institute. The two are not compatible. Sympatico? Time is a treacle octopus with its tentacles wedged up and inside everything. Everything in here is underpinned by time. Time passing, time going slow, wondering about time, nudging stubborn time forward and trying to speed it up. Time wasted.  Middlemarch is not right for time here it doesn’t help the time fly like Pachinko. This morning the nurses did ANOTHER final, final FINAL wellness check and entered the final stats and data electronically in order for our release forms to be processed.

“Did you want to leave today?” asked the nurse in full PPE, her plastic gown crackling as she fiddled with the medical equipment.


“YES,” said Anthony and I, emphatically in unison. 

Why the actual f*£% would anyone voluntarily stay longer after having been inside for a month???

 She said we could stay here another day if we wanted.


Anthony is doing his final hours of work, scraping the last dregs of power from the wi-fi dongle. Jack is on TikTok. I found a hairdryer in the bathroom and used it, my hair looks like a dull brown bush.  My nails are clipped clinically short and scrubbed clean.

Which moments will remain and which will be obliterated? Which scents will catapult us back to this Suite on the 20th floor of the Wellness Hotel? Will we never speak of this again or will it become family folklore. Hard to say what it will be but soon this chapter of our lives be forever closed.

Anthony is beginning to do the paperwork for our flight back to London. Mrs Whatif whispers there is a chance we will be sent back to the Wellness Hotel if one of us tests positive. I will have to battle her till the last.

And the final moments of quarantine tick, tick, tick.

*End Note. We had 24 hours of ‘freedom’ before leaving Australia but were not permitted to travel two hours north to visit my mum and dad before leaving.

 I have a flight home booked for July 2022 and have already started counting down the days.